Side Effects of Alcohol for Women and How It Affects Muscle Health

Although men are more likely to drink alcohol and consume greater amounts, biological differences in body structure and chemistry mean that most women absorb more alcohol and take longer to metabolize it. After drinking the same amount of alcohol, women tend to have higher blood alcohol levels than men, and the immediate effects of alcohol generally occur more quickly and last longer in women. These differences make women more susceptible to the long-term side effects of alcohol. As a physical therapist, I am deeply concerned about musculoskeletal and nervous disorders in women at various important stages.

Alcohol use during adolescence

Alcoholic myopathy is a condition that causes loss of function and strength in the skeleton and muscles in response to prolonged or excessive alcohol use. This leads to rhabdomyolysis, oxidative stress (destruction of natural compounds), as well as interfering with activities in your cells like glycogen and lipid storage, and improper muscle contractions leading to weakness.

alcohol side effectsEven if you drink alcohol just for fun, keep it within limits. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

side effects of alcohol on muscles

An alcoholic, or someone after a night of heavy drinking, may notice muscle problems or discomfort after drinking. That’s because drinking alcohol can damage your muscles.

Some muscle symptoms you may notice after drinking include:

* Pain or cramps
* Soft spot
* Poor athletic performance
* Less resistance
* Impaired recovery
* Alcohol disrupts calcium absorption
* Drinking alcohol disrupts the flow of calcium into muscle cells. Calcium is a substance that is responsible for helping muscles contract. Therefore, physios believe that by damaging the way calcium works in muscle cells, drinking can reduce your strength.
* Muscles damaged by alcohol release creatine kinase (CK). It is released from muscle cells after injury. Most of the CK in the body lives inside muscle cells, where it helps generate energy for muscles to work. So if your doctor orders a blood test and it shows that your CK levels are high, this could mean muscle damage. Alcohol damages muscles, and these damaged muscles then release CK.

Side effects of alcohol on the muscles.Yes, alcohol can cause muscle cramps. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

Drinking alcohol can cause muscle cramps

Your liver’s main job is to get rid of harmful substances in your body. Your liver considers alcohol to be a harmful substance and therefore will make it a priority to get rid of alcohol in your bloodstream. This fact means that other substances that the liver is trying to get rid of may have to wait longer to leave your body than if you hadn’t been drinking. When you exercise, your body produces a chemical called lactic acid that can cause cramps.

Usually your liver tries to get rid of lactic acid. However, when you have been drinking, it may take longer for the lactic acid to leave your body because your liver is trying to get rid of the alcohol. Lactic acid can stick around longer than usual and cause additional muscle pain and cramping.

Alcohol can contribute to muscle breakdown

Unfortunately, after drinking alcohol, the chemicals in your body make it easier for your body to break down muscle and harder to build it.

Side Effects of Alcohol for Female Athletes

1. Your stamina and energy levels are lower

During exercise, your body feeds on essential blood sugar that your liver produces when it releases glucose into your bloodstream. Drinking alcohol reduces your liver’s ability to make these all-important sugars, meaning you’re essentially running out of energy.

Here’s another side effect of alcohol. Its consumption can also reduce the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a key energy source for muscle cells, necessary for the biochemical reactions involved in any muscle contraction. The more your muscles move, the more ATP is consumed and the more is needed to fuel your workout.

alcohol side effectsYour energy levels may drop due to
to alcohol consumption. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

2. Your cardiovascular performance drops

Aerobic exercise, or cardio, requires the body to pump oxygenated blood to the heart to deliver oxygen to the muscles. When you’ve been drinking, that process slows down, as does your blood sugar levels, meaning your muscles can’t access the quick energy they need.

3. Your quality of sleep is affected

Getting a good night’s rest is vital for optimal athletic performance, and when you drink alcohol, your ability to sleep well plummets. Yes, you may fall asleep more easily, but research shows that alcohol reduces the amount of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which means you’ll wake up feeling drowsy and low on energy the next day. Alcohol’s effect on sleep can also inhibit your body’s production of human growth hormone (HGH), which is necessary for building and repairing muscle.

4. Dehydration means your performance drops

Alcohol is a natural diuretic. In layman’s terms, it makes you urinate more, which is why you usually wake up gasping for thirst when you’re hungover. Dehydration can affect everything from your energy to your stamina to your core body temperature, which is bad news if you have a big game or workout planned.
When you’re dehydrated, your body’s stores of electrolytes, such as magnesium, potassium, and calcium, are depleted. These are vitally important for the maintenance of fluid balance, muscle action, and muscle coordination. Water-soluble vitamins like B6, B12, and vitamin C are also depleted by dehydration, making you more prone to disease and reducing your body’s ability to function at its best.

alcohol dehydrationDrinking alcohol can make you feel dehydrated. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

5. You are more likely to get cramps during training

If you’ve ever had your game day, chances that you missed a calf cramp, or had to stop mid-deadlifts due to sore glutes, you’ll know how annoying muscle cramps can be. Drinking alcohol in the 24-hour period before training can contribute to lactic acid buildup, which increases the risk of cramps and muscle fatigue.

6. Your reaction times are slower

The sedative effects of alcohol can mean bad things for your performance and reaction times for up to 72 hours after drinking. Poorer hand-eye coordination and slower response times may be okay if you’re exercising alone, but not if your teammates trust you.

7. You are more at risk of injury complications

Drinking alcohol increases blood flow and swelling around soft tissue injuries such as sprains, bruises, and cuts, slowing healing time. Plus, alcohol’s ability to mask pain means you’re less likely to treat an injury carefully, which could lead to further damage.

Even if you don’t have a specific injury, drinking before or after exercise could greatly affect your body’s ability to repair and recover, as alcohol can lower testosterone, which is important for muscle building.

alcohol can cause injuryYou may end up with more injuries if you drink alcohol regularly. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

How to treat muscle problems from drinking

The only proven remedy for muscle problems caused by drinking is to reduce or stop alcohol consumption. If you have minor muscle problems from a single episode of heavy drinking, your muscles may begin to improve within a few days. However, chronic drinking or alcoholism can damage muscles to the point that it can take months to repair the damage. Physiotherapy can help to some extent. But now that you know about the side effects of alcohol for women, be more aware!


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